Save Music in Chinatown 16 recap with Phranc, Ford Madox Ford, LP3 & The Tragedy, The Horseheads, and The Linda Lindas plus Gabba Gabba Cake

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After five years and 15 shows, you’d think organizing Save Music in Chinatown benefit shows wouldn’t be a big deal anymore. Yet another matinee with old music and young kids–don’t they all blend together and are there even show-goers who like either? Maybe they would come for cookies. Or cake!

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My wife Wendy and friend Nate, who also obsess over our series of all-ages matinees year-round, were right on board when I decided to made our 16th show my 50th birthday party, hoping that  maybe a couple more people would come out to help raise money for music education at Castelar, Chinatown’s public elementary school, by carrying on the punk rock tradition of the historic neighborhood’s old Hong Kong Cafe.

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As usual, the lineup came together perfectly but from totally different directions. Phranc has been playing at punk rock shows and benefit gigs for decades, and we had been in touch with the All-American Jewish Lesbian folk singer since she and our mutual friend Alice Bag teamed up to play our 14th show as PHAG. I loved the Smothers Brothers-inspired duo’s topical songs, which were as progressive as they were current, and two-of-a-kind banter, but wanted our audience to get a rare taste of Phranc as a solo artist as well. Is there anyone cooler or more calming, more sensible or funny, in a state of chaos? She was doing it way before “Life’s a Beach” and the Reagan and Bush years and she’ll be around long after 45 and “YOLO.” Phranc was and will always be the original Life Lover that reassures all of us underdogs to not give in or give up.

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We’ve been shocked a few times when a friend, whose cool band had no business playing a rinky dink show like ours to begin with, has asked to play for our cause a second time. Mike from Channel Three and Tony Adolescent approached us about a record-release show and secret gig last year, and this time it was Chip from Ford Madox Ford. What an honor to have lifers and veterans of the first wave of punk in Chinatown come back to play for the kids who go to school there now. What a relief not to grovel to potential headliners and co-headliners! And I don’t even know what the blues are, but I love the combo’s rock-solid groove mixed with Chip’s original punk energy and nonstop layer of noise provided by his guitar shredding son Dewey.

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I lined up LP3 & The Tragedy and The Horseheads during a bittersweet afternoon at Alex’s Bar in way back in July. Nate and I were commiserating with Louie Perez III and Mike Martt at Steve Soto’s memorial, and one of the beloved bass player’s last shows with the Adolescents in SoCal was actually at our May benefit. Louie had been working closely with Steve and was devastated. He only came to the gathering because Mike asked him to bring some gear so CJ Ramone and a few Adolescents could play a short set (which they joked Steve would have hated, but made everyone feel better). Somehow, I built up the courage to ask them if their bands would be interested in playing our show and, perhaps partly in tribute to Steve’s memory and the legacy of his great music and big heart, they said yes.

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Having LP3 & The Tragedy and The Horseheads was a very cool pairing of cowpunk legends, lifers, and torch carriers–perfect since Chip and his brother Tony formed the genre’s instigators Rank & File–and how about Chip coming up to sing “Class War,” a Dangerhouse single released by the brother’s previous band, The Dils, with LP3? The famously unruly Horseheads covering “What’s so Funny about Peace, Love, and Understanding?” for a crowd with as many children in the audience as survivors of the Hong Kong Cafe days? “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” provided a gritty balance that pleased the blues purists and fans of Mike’s other old band Thelonious Monster

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Bolstered by a kickass bake sale and cool raffle as usual, the show would have been amazing enough right there–way above and beyond what we should expect from our humble project, cause, and efforts. But it gets better and I actually get emotional when I look back at it, largely because The Linda Lindas played. Eloise has gone from mascot to flyer artist to member of a band with her cousins and their friend. While we hoped to raise money for our daughter’s school all along, having a scene grow around it was a total surprise, and who knew that it would be a place where kids that can handle it could thrive? They play covers now (Go-Go’s, X-Ray Spex, Ramones, Bikini Kill, Joy Division) but who knows how far they will take it?

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And on top of all that, it was my birthday! What a cool present for so many friends, family, and supporters come out and eat a Ramones-themed cake for my twin brother Greg and me? Or hear Phranc sing “It’s Cool to Grow Old in L.A.” name-checking Save Music in Chinatown, The Linda Lindas, and The Hong Kong Cafe?

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I’m grateful not only that so many people come out to support public school and music education in the historic neighborhood for my immigrant grandparents and in-laws, and now my daughter, has found community, but also that they contribute to my most fun, amazing birthday ever. And I never make a big deal out of my birthday but this was a big deal.

 

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Thank you to everyone who played, contributed, attended, and had fun at #savemusicinchinatown 16 at @thegrandstarjazzclub this afternoon! It's unbelievable to me that our all-ages matinee fund raising concerts for Castelar's music program has not only survived into its sixth year but that we can get a lineup like @horseheadsmusic, @lp3andthetragedy, @fdmdxfd, and @phranc.la to play for our humble cause. Or that my daughter would go from being a kindergartener dancing around in front to flyer artist to guest singer to member of a band on the show, @the_linda_lindas! Why not make this show my 50th birthday party, celebrating not only a birthday but Eloise's awesome school and my favorite neighborhood's punk rock past at the Hong Kong Cafe. And cookies! Is there a cooler way to grow old in L.A. or anywhere else? If you were there and loved it, please share your pictures and spread the word! And if not but it sounds right up your alley, I'll be blabbing about our next show sooner than you think! Who wants in?

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Hugs, high fives, and thanks to everyone who played, worked the bake sale, contributed to the raffle, helped get the word out, and came and had fun. Reaching 50 could have been a somber event, but I’ve never felt more excited, engaged, joyful about uniting my favorite subcultures of punk rock and immigrant kids and trying to make a difference in my favorite neighborhood, Chinatown. And to do it with my family and so many old and new friends is simply the best. We hope to see you at our next shows in January and June… I wonder who we can get to play?

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Left to right, top to bottom: Artist Vicki Berndt; Dewey Peak from Ford Madox Ford and too many other bands to list; Phranc, Horseheads, and Bela from The Linda Lindas; Castelar alum and one of the flyer models, Tatawan; Alpine Decline; Gabba Gabba Cake from KG Bakery; Tsubasa from Rough Kids and family; Chip from Ford Madox Ford, Rank & File, Dils, etc. with Alice Bag and The Linda Lindas; Zen and Atomic Nancy; RazorCake crew; Chris from Scoops, who brought custom ice cream, and Mamie, whose family ran the Hong Kong Cafe; post-show birthday dinner crew at Golden Dragon.

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For news on the next shows, keep an eye on this blog or follow the Save Music in Chinatown page on Facebook!

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Save Music in Chinatown: The Fifth Year zine and sixth year

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Five years ago, Save Music in Chinatown was just a crazy idea that Wendy came up with.

A couple of weeks after Eloise started Kindergarten at Castelar, we received a handout asking us families if we could donate money to the elementary school’s excellent but underfunded music program. We knew there was no way the mostly blue-collar neighborhood would cough up enough dough to make a dent in the amount. And we aren’t rich. But Wendy and I straddle Chinatown’s immigrant culture (her parents and my grandparents) and punk rock past (my favorite type of music), and have a background in DIY projects. Why not build a bridge between two of our favorite subcultures in one of our favorite places to raise money for kids who live in and around Chinatown today?

With no experience in organizing benefit shows but a lot of help from old and new friends, we set up our first all-ages matinee fund raiser inspired by the old Hong Kong Café, which hosted early shows by the Germs, Go-Go’s, Weirdos, Bags, Black Flag, and other legendary L.A. punk bands. Except we had cookies and coffee, little kids dancing in front, and a very cool raffle with autographed records and books, and gift certificates for donuts and pho!

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We didn’t expect our humble shows to last more than five years, couldn’t have expected that so many amazing bands would play on our behalf, or never even dreamed that we’d be part of a small community that has raised about $10,000 for Castelar’s music program every school year. Amazing and totally unexpected.

And, personally, Wendy and I have become fixtures in Castelar’s booster club, recognized advocates of the teachers union, and regular contributors to the historic neighborhood’s resistance to gentrification.

Eloise is now a fifth grader, and several of her teachers have told Wendy and me that they will miss her when she moves on from Castelar next year. But I think we have grown and learned at least as much as our daughter—and are savoring everything that is going on and grateful to everyone who has helped in any way. Thank you for being a part of it.

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In advance of our sixth year and sixteenth show, we made a Save Music in Chinatown: The Fifth Year zine. This essay was written for it, and we hope to see you at Save Music in Chinatown 16 on Sunday, November 4 with Phranc, Ford Madox Ford, LP3 & The Tragedy, The Horseheads, and The Linda Lindas.

The Quick’s Mondo Deco reissue and reunion panel with Mark Hamill

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Photo by Stevo Rood/ARoodPhoto.com

Although I haven’t written for a magazine in almost a decade, sometimes I still receive packages in the mail with cool new music. Or in this case, cool old music. The Quick is a pre-punk LA band that I only found out about through Redd Kross and Dickies covers and then a Burger reissue. There’s no way I’ll ever get my hands on an affordable copy of the mind-blowing, slicker-than-snot-on-a-doorknob Sparks, Beatles, and Queen-informed Mondo Deco LP, but it has finally been reissued on CD. And guess what? It totally rules!

Sadly, I was out of town for the panels with the reunited band as well as fan club president Lisa Fancher (a.k.a. my friend, founder of Frontier Records, and writer of the copious liner notes) run by first-generation Quick listener Mark Hamill (yes, the actor from Star Wars). So I sent a few questions to Lisa and Quick drummer Danny Benair (fellow liner note contributor and also member of The Weirdos, Choir Invisible, and The Three O’Clock) for those of us who missed out.

MW: Listening to the reissue, my first thought was that for a band of teens The Quick was insanely realized and polished with stellar songs, musicianship, and melodies.
LF: They rehearsed like crazy so they were very tight, but they were also extremely silly people so they left a lot of room for chaos and mayhem. If they audience didn’t like them, which was a lot of the time, they had all sorts of methods for making the audience come unglued. As long as they got a reaction, it didn’t really matter which way it went! I saw The Quick with everyone from the Runaways to Starz to Van Halen (yuck!) to the Damned (who Danny and I became friendly with). They opened for absolutely everyone as they were one of the most well-known LA bands for a brief moment in time.

DB: We were professional garage musicians and we rehearsed much more than most bands. I love the band, and I am proud of what we did. Being signed at a young age with no knowledge of what it means is tough. Not sure I was ever really prepared.

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Photo courtesy of It’s Alive Media

MW: So much music has come and gone since that Quick record. How did Mondo Deco impress you when it came out and what about revisiting it now?
LF: Of course I could find no fault when it came out, but I was just out of high school. After many, many decades, it’s clear to see that speeding up the record was a massive mistake– it’s quite unpleasant to listen to. Danny remixed two tracks and at the correct speed, and they are super rockin’ and powerful, I hope someone will fund remixing the whole album someday!

DB: The fun part was when Brian Kehew and I spent 10 hours with the 2-inch tape. That was crazy! I recall those days quite well. I know the music too well: not many shocks other then the extended versions we found.

MW: Are those drumsticks the band is eating on the cover? Is that you tempting fate by wearing a white blouse while eating ice cream under lights? Were there other foods like chicken wings or pizza slices under consideration?
DB: The outtake photos, which I do not have, were funny. By the end we wiped it on our clothes. There was PLENTY of what you see: pastries, various ice creams, bananas, etc. No other foods.

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Instagram photo by Lisa Fancher, founder of Frontier Records, president of The Quick Fan Club, and contributor at the reunion panels

MW: How did the roundtable go at Beyond Baroque? The second show in the Valley? Were there more people in skinny ties or Star Wars gear?
DB: The roundtable was great, Nice experience, plenty of familiar faces. No topics were set, but each show was quite different. I think there were no skinny ties or Star Wars gear, but people did want to meet Mark Hamill.

LF: I want to add how generous it was of Mark to be the MC. He didn’t jump in a lot, and kind of let Hufsteter do all the talking. I thought Mark and Danny would do all the blabbing but Steve was stunningly effusive. He barely spoke at all back then, so that was certainly a big surprise. He obviously had decades to go over all of their mistakes, and he detailed them without being bitter. They were all 19 at the time, so who can blame them for letting Kim attempt to mentor them?

MW: When is the last time everyone in the band got together? Do you send each other holiday cards? Did everyone get to hang out and catch up when planning the reissue? 
DB: In 2009, four of us had dinner. Billy was there, but Ian was in NYC. So the last time the five of us were together was 1978, sadly.

LF: I see and talk to Danny all the time, as he lives about a mile from me. I lost touch with the rest, so it was really great to see them all again. Hufsteter brought his dog Monkey with him from Arizona, and he’s probably the cutest dog I’ve ever seen!

MW: “My Purgatory Years,” “Hillary,” “No No Girl,” and your version of “It Won’t Be Long”–so many great songs that have never sounded better. But why no “Pretty Please” bonus cut?
DB: Thank you. This records was about the Mercury demos and Mondo Deco. All of the Elektra demos were excluded for that reason.

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Photos courtesy of Danny Benair

MW: What are the chances of Frontier doing a reissue of the “Pretty Please” single, which the world needs just as much as the LP?
LF: Technically, that was the first record I ever record I ever released–many years before I ever thought up Frontier. I created that wonderfully crappy picture sleeve with Letraset and a few Xeroxes. Dionysus released “Pretty Please” in the 2000s, I think, but I don’t know if it needs reissuing. (Ya think I should? Hmmm.)

MW: Danny, I think you were involved in ETM, which brings music education to underserved elementary schools including my daughter’s. Can you talk about your lifelong relationship with music from The Quick to now? Thoughts on your bands as part of LA’s fabric of cool underground music?
DB: ETM was Louis from The Three O’Clock. Great cause. Well, I was and I still am a geeky record collector. It all started by listening to records and playing with friends, and The Quick and The Three O’Clock were my career bookends. Glad that I did it all–the good and bad.

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Photo by Stevo Rood/ARoodPhoto.com

Get The Quick’s Mondo Deco CD from a cool record store near you or straight from the source at realgonemusic.com and check out more amazing photos from the event by Stevo Rood at RoodPhoto.com. (And don’t forget Lisa Fancher’s Frontier Records for Three O’Clock, Weirdos, and more essential stuff like Adolescents, Rikk Agnew, Christian Death, Middle Class, Flyboys, and more!)

Comic-Con 2018 Recap: 40th year of going edition

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The San Diego Comic-Con can become a blur after four days. Less than two weeks after this summer’s installment–the first time my wife Wendy, our daughter Eloise, and I were able to get passes for each and every day–I can only sort photos by looking old T-shirts that I took out of storage just for the occasion.

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But how about going through memories over 40 years? My brother Greg, our friend Mike, and I were 10 when we started attending the Con in 1979. Since then, Greg and I have missed one. Mike, zero. Our first trips were to the old convention center and then to the El Cortez, its original site, before the new convention center opened.

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There wasn’t nearly as much cosplay in the Bronze Age of Comics, and definitely way more Trekkies and swords and sandals wearers than superheroes. I think it’s safe to say that the modern age of cosplay was ushered in by anime otaku in the ’90s and then cemented by mainstream Star Wars fandom, the Harry Potter generation, and movie studios paying attractive models to wear capes, and not just nerds.

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Fancy pavilions erected by movie studios, video game companies, and publishers (comic books or not) weren’t present, either. Mostly it was shops setting up simple tables with back issues in cardboard boxes or original art arranged under plastic. There were also vendors that sold vintage lunchboxes and Big Little Books, genre movie posters and lobby cards, duped VHS tapes of horror flicks and kung fu movies, weapons for real life D&D players and Civil War re-enactors, and T-shirts for all types of fandom. There wasn’t a lot of glamour in the good old days–although I recall seeing the likes of Jack Kirby and Will Eisner walking the floor. Once, John Byrne decline to sign an L7 concert poster that ripped off his Dark Phoenix art for me.

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There have always been panels and spotlights, and some of the earliest events and panels that stand out for me include a Klingon Ascension Ritual, midnight reading by Neil Gaiman, and advance screening of Natural Born Killers. Sometime in the earlier ’90s I took a picture with Go Nagai at a spotlight panel. There is sort of a blackout between the mid ’90s and 2010 when I was sequestered in the GR booth–first in the Small Press area and then on the main floor–but now that am free to enjoy every aspect of the Con once more, I find myself transitioning from being one of the nerds in black T-shirts who gets excited about the most obscure, least popular panels to the AARP members who make up the balance.

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Not having a vendor pass anymore, Hall H getting absorbed by mainstream celebrity culture, entertainment conglomerates taking over the Gaslamp District, and difficulty of getting passes make it easy for us lowly fans to scoff at Comic-Con and stop caring about it. So do the other conventions that are popping up everywhere. But I attended it before all the hoopla and will continue after it passes.

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Where else can you buy new comics straight from the likes of Jason Lutes, Johnny Ryan, Charles Glaubitz, Lawrence “Raw Dog” Hubbard, and Debbie Huey, and have them signed and sketched in? Gush to comics book legends such as Bob Burden, Robert Williams, Geof Darrow, and Sergio Aragones? Hang out with old and new friends from all over the continent who make comics and other cool stuff including Eric Nakamura, Keenan Keller, Tom Devlin, Peggy Burns, Tracy Hurren, Brian Flynn, Gabe Soria, Louie Perez, and Henry Mortensen? And catch up with Sacto and San Diego pals Scott Bradley, McHank, and Rob Crow on top of everything else? (Shown in that order above, but unsorted.)

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Where else will I get to see panels with Nichelle Nichols, Bobcat Goldthwait, and underground comix legends or discover news about an unseen Harryhausen documentary and museum in the works? Eloise would be upset if I didn’t mention Supergirl and DC Superhero Girls. Same with Wendy regarding A Discovery of Witches.  There was so much more, and that wasn’t cosplay but the real Bootsy Collins with Peppermint Patty and DJ Lance Rock who we encountered and took a picture with. Wow!

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Beneath all the layers of showbiz and after all the difficulty of getting passes–and perhaps a little bit because of them–Comic-Con is still as awesome as you want it to be once you get in. And my love for the institution has only become deeper now that Eloise is as exactly as old as Mike, Greg, and I were when we first convinced our cool moms to take us. How lucky am I to see it reflected in her eyes? What will she and Mike and Greg’s kids say about it 40 years from now? With Crom’s blessings, we dorky parents will get to see that conversation unfold one year at a time.

One week in Berlin: Memorials and Museums, Maiden and Ramones

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I was already excited about Wendy, Eloise, and me jumping on Dad’s trip to Berlin. It’s a city with a lot of  history and we had never visited anyplace like it before. The last time we joined him on a trip to Mexico City, it was one of our best journeys ever. Plus Berlin has the Ramones Museum. It wasn’t until I discovered that the legendary punk band’s first manager, Danny Fields, would be giving a talk at the location that I got really amped about our week in Germany. I love the Ramones. And it turned out that like Paris (where we saw a Moebius retrospective and Murakami takeover of the Louvre), Venice (an exhibit of Kubrick’s early magazine photography), or Mexico City (the cradle of lucha libre), Berlin is one of the Great Cities of the world where something cool is happening all the time.

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Perhaps it was slightly cruel to drag my jet-lagged family to the cramped and crowded Ramones Museum on our first night in Berlin. But it was worth it to meet the namesake of “Danny Says” and hear him talk about not only managing the Ramones but taking pictures of them to supply the weekly papers. He knew Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy were important but didn’t expected that his photography would eventually be shown at art shows and be collected in a hardcover art book. We got to hear a lot of great stories from a humble and funny person who happened to know a lot of cool musicians. (He had previously worked with The Doors, MC5, and Stooges…) We also made friends with Flo, the guy who runs the Ramones Museum, and even had lunch with him later on. He told us that he opened the venue only because his collection was too big for his apartment!

Of course, Berlin is better known for its heavy-duty history, from the Nazis to the Cold War to the Wall falling in 1989. It made an impression on me that the city’s whole story–the good, the bad, and the ugly–is laid out in monuments and museums all over the place. It reminded me of the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, which was constructed at the Lorraine Motel where MLK was shot, but spread out citywide.

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Not far from the Brandenburg Gate, where Nazis and then Allied troops marched before and after WWII, are a purposely disorienting Memorial to Murdered Jews and a more somber Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism. Not far away and running alongside a surviving section of the Berlin Wall is the Topographie des Terrors, an outdoor museum built at the site of the old SS headquarters that features a detailed timeline of Hitler’s rise and the country’s fall into fascism. Politicians building up power, breaking down unions, scapegoating minorities, and celebrating the master race–German kids who grew up post-unification probably get sick of hearing about it but every detail hit us American tourists like a ton of bricks, made in the U.S.A. Seems like the only shameful piece of history that isn’t carved in stone is the site of the Führerbunker, which is now covered by a dusty parking lot marked by just a few modest signs. (Appropriately not worth the walk.)

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Traveling easily, mostly by train and sometimes by bus, in a city where English is used almost everywhere, we packed in a lot of other touristy stuff. Checkpoint Charlie features actors pretending to be American G.I.s in front and has a McDonald’s in back (as well as a stand that offers vegan currywurst down the street) but is still something to see, and we went to a ton of museums as well. Museumsinsel (a.k.a. Museum Island) is UNESCO-approved beautiful and the various structures hold plenty of important Egyptian artifacts and European paintings. The post-unification Kulturforum complex is impressive, too. But I liked the Berlinishche Gallery the most. It reflected a century of German history through art–from formal to surreal to dark to experimental. I especially enjoyed the Kienholz: The Art Show 1963-1977, with its roomful of sculpted art lovers checking out the gallery scene circa hippie days complete with vintage commentary that can be heard via lo-fi transistor devices installed on each figure.

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We found David Bowie and Iggy Pop’s old apartment (where Lodger, Low, and Heroes were written) and also attended an Iron Maiden concert at Waldbühne (Legacy of the Beast!). It was pretty wild to hear Winston Churchill’s voice and Eddie’s fighter plane open up the show at an equally gigantic and gorgeous outdoor pavilion that once hosted Nazi rallies. Some of my other favorite places were the Schloss Charlottenburg’s super opulent, Orientalism-on-steroids room with carved caricatures of Chinese people and monkeys on the walls holding hundreds of imported tea sets as well as the truly psychedelic, Tiger Balm Gardens-esque Chinesisches Haus at Potdam. King Frederick was really into collecting Chinese things–gong!

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We got to hang out with some locals, too. My dad has an online pal that practices English with him while he brushes up on his German. On a river cruise, over lunch, and then while visiting her pad out in the country, she shared memories of growing up in East Germany and even played some old timey faves on her piano for us. In return, Eloise played Beatles and Beethoven. We met her daughter for dinner later on (Mediterranean food because locals go out for French, Italian, Tapas, etc. and German food reserved for street stands and biergartens) and she talked about being in the first graduating class after the Wall fell. Her older classmates were out of luck but she was able to reap the benefits of reunification. To her young teenage son, East Germany is ancient history just like Nazi Germany.

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We travelers reaped some benefits, too. Berlin is heavy and cool and we would go back in a second.

Save Music in Chinatown 15 recap with Adolescents, Midget Oddjob, Unhushables, Hurry Up, Cringeworthy, and DJ Lisa Fancher from Frontier Records

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Our fifteenth Save Music in Chinatown show was going to be amazing. I felt like the lineup was carved in stone before the fourteenth show (Lois, Dub Narcotic Sound System, PHAG featuring Phranc and Alice Bag, and Mike Watt & The Missingmen!) even happened. But timing didn’t work out and the deck got shuffled leaving us with only a super-secret headliner that we couldn’t promote because we didn’t want stage divers and slam dancers to crush little elementary school kids at our all-ages matinee. And what sort of lunatic would pay 12 or 15 bucks to see a show if they don’t even know who is playing? We can’t have that sort of weirdo around our children!

But like Tang Sanzang in his journey to the west or Tampopo in her ramen shop, we received help from the coolest collection of legends and oddballs. Each band really deserves its own story.

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Cringeworthy is the humblest type of group–a tribute band. But they play the songs of Cringer and J Church, two punk bands that I not only loved but was actually close to. The singer and guitarist Lance Hahn was a dear friend and J Church would not only stay with me when they toured but Lance would come over just to hang out. He was a songwriting and DIY animal, who had his own record label and zine, and we shared a lot of overlapping interests outside of punk rock: Hong Kong movies, vegetarian Chinese food, Hawaii. It meant a lot to me that he dug the magazine I helped make, and it was brutal when he died at the young age of 40–not long after he was supposed to play my Chinese wedding banquet (a precursor to our Save Music in Chinatown shows and a story for another time).

But Cringeworthy was formed to play an anniversary show at Epicenter Zone, where Lance volunteered, and features Bay Area and Sacto veterans of the punk and hardcore scenes including Kamala from Cringer and Kamala & The Carnivores, Frank from Star Fucking Hipsters and The Love Songs, and Lory and Anthony from RAD and Sick Burn. Anthony is also my cousin! How cool was it that he would get his Lance tribute band to come down to Los Angeles to play our benefit and even ask our daughter Eloise to sing one of my favorite songs by him: “Confession.” There is so much to love about that particular moment–J Church, Lance, Anthony, Eloise, Chinatown– it almost hurt to watch.

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I knew it was a long shot when I asked my old friend Maggie (ex-Bangs) if Hurry Up might be interested in playing our humble benefit show. Who would come all the way from Portland to play for free? But judging from her radio show, I knew that she was not only a fixture in the PacNW’s underground music scene but also an aficionado of all cool music including early L.A. punk. It turns out Maggie had been talking to Kathy and Westin about embarking on a short tour the day I contacted her, and it might not have hurt that her partners’ other band The Thermals had just announced a breakup. All that plus cheap airline tickets made the unlikely trip possible .

It was very cool to see our little benefit show from an out-of-town visitors’ point of view, especially because they were so stoked! Seeing little kids from Chinatown mixed with legends of L.A. punk bonding over music and cookies must have been a surreal experience, and the power trio played like they were out of their minds. Conversely, friends in the crowd were blown away by the power-pop infused, garage punk ‘n’ roll band’s musicianship but also their pure joy. After seeing Hurry UP play three ripping sets in two days (one with Save Music in Chinatown friends and LA punk legends Alley Cats) and getting to hang out with them so much, I was very sad to see them drive off to San Diego.

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The Unhushables didn’t even exist when we started planning the show. But not more than an hour after their Facebook page launched, which was a big deal to me because I was a huge fan of Franks’s old band Big Drill Car as well as Dave and Art’s Supernova, I asked my friend who managed them if they might be interested in playing our show. Just like that, they said yes and I had to try hard not to fan out. I probably saw Big Drill Car two or three dozen times in the early ’90s, and have fond memories of Supernova pulling up to Jabberjaw in their space van.

More or less, I kept my cool and even asked them if they’d be interested in making and selling a small run of CD-Rs with hand-printed sleeves (since their LP was only available digitally) and  invited them to KXLU they could introduce themselves over the airwaves while promoting the show and cause on the Molotov Cocktail Hour (they stayed for the entire show). The nicest humans! The most fun set! The music is entirely new but us old fans could clearly detect the weirdness of Supernova and exuberance of Big Drill Car. I hope they play again and often.

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I have been trying to get Midget Handjob to play our show for around a year now. Their name is PG-13 (possibly R) but the music is mind-expanding to all ages with an all-star cast of noise-making punkers who can also play hard jazz and noise and Keith Morris reading fever-dream stories on top of them. Yes, the original singer of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and OFF! It isn’t easy to wrangle seven schedules when every contributors plays in multiple bands but somehow the stars lined up for our show. And I didn’t find out until two weeks before the show, when Keith sent a message saying, “Weren’t we going to perform?” Okay!

We simply opened doors a little earlier and Keith was cool with us tweaking the combo’s name into Midget Oddjob, since flyers were going to be hung at our daughter’s elementary school. But nothing about the set was dumbed down, watered down, or made kid friendly. The band is a real jewel of L.A. punk that doesn’t play very often and they burned a searing impression into every single ear and brain cell with their supremely and equally trippy and psychotic jams. Freak out at the all-ages matinee!

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The Adolescents were our secret headliner–again. At our fifth show, founding member Steve Soto was announced to play a solo set and then the entire band played. I don’t think that either Mike Watt & The Secondmen or The Gears knew who was going to play after them! For Sunday’s matinee, our fifteenth, we did a better job of spreading the word to friends, family, and anyone who follows our updates and had a comfortably packed room full of curious kids, punk lifers, and supporters of the cause. Maybe having Lisa Fancher, who released their first and best-known Blue Album, be our deejay was a clue, too?

Before the set, singer and longime champion of our cause Tony Reflex talked about how the band has played Chinatown many times since 1979 and described his landmark moments in the historic neighborhood, including getting arrested for the first time and proposing to his wife. I would add their shows for us at the Human Resources gallery and now the Grand Star. For a band with that sort of legacy and imprint in L.A. punk to give our cause their seal of approval  not once but twice (and Steve did come through with a solo set on top of that) means the world to me. Their set was a full-on rager starting with “Brats in Battalions” and ending with “Amoeba,” peppered with more classics and brand-new faves in between (“Flat Earth Stomp,” “5150,” and the title track off their excellent upcoming Cropduster LP will blow you away). They don’t hate children and none were crushed.

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Of course, Save Music in Chinatown shows are more than concerts and not just because there was a kickass bake sale and little kids in dancing around in front. We raise money for music education in the inner city, where many students are immigrants, English learners, and underserved kids who don’t necessarily get opportunities for a thorough music education outside of school. We build on the punk rock tradition of the neighborhood’s old Hong Kong Cafe (where first-wave bands like X, Black Flag, Germs, Weirdos, Go-Go’s, Bags, and Dils played) by inviting artists who played there back in the day as well as newer members of the underground music tradition, both local and from as far away as China. We mix up immigrants and underground music, my favorite subcultures, that have crossed paths in the very same plaza as our shows at the Grand Star and unite them for the sake of kids, art, and the future.

After helping to start and edit an independent magazine for 16 years, where I met my graphic designer wife, I figured Wendy and I would never do anything that cool again. Who knew we would be able to embark on something like this with old and new friends, building a scene, supporting public education, and exposing kids who can handle it to underground and DIY culture? Who knew we would be able to do it and make a difference in the neighborhood where my immigrant grandparents and in-laws found community?

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My observations and gushing are mind-numbingly similar after each of our shows, and they must be a blur to anyone who actually checks in on my posts. But as our fifth school year draws to a close, I am more shocked than ever by the events we have shared, allies we have made, and how much our daughter has grown alongside the project. She has become our in-house artist, top spokesperson, and guest performer as well as lead inspiration. I didn’t get exposed to zines, DIY, or indie culture until I was a teenager and it blew me away. What can stop someone who is empowered by those sorts of things as a child?

With Eloise entering her final school year at Castelar, it’s hard not to anticipate the end of our project looming. That means we will have to make those three matinees especially great. (What bands want in? Do you dare miss a show?) It also means finding ways to make its impression go beyond 18 shows with 150 -200 people attending each afternoon. (An article for someone? A full-on book? The words may be dull, but we sure have some great photos.) Instead of taking a break this summer, I plan on doing a lot of digging into how these shows have reflected and affected the community, thinking about making the transition from school booster to activist, and considering where to go from here. Hopefully the posts won’t be too dull and we’ll still see you when school resumes in the fall. Have a great summer!

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If you don’t follow my feeds or blog, join the Save Music in Chinatown community on Facebook for updates on the next show.

 

Save Music in Chinatown 15 preview: Hurry Up (ex-The Bangs and The Thermals)

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I never expected our Save Music in Chinatown benefits to support Castelar Elementary’s music program to last this long. For five school years now, our all-ages matinees inspired by the neighborhood’s punk rock past at the old Hong Kong Café (but with cookies and little kids dancing around in front like the Peanuts Gang in a Target Video) have raised about $10,000 annually to help provide an extensive music education to largely immigrant, English-learning, and underserved students. We also have a lot of fun exposing kids that can handle it to DIY culture. All the while, we’ve made a lot of friends in LA’s storied punk community. Adolescents, Channel Three, Alice Bag, Mike Watt, Chuck Dukowski, Rikk Agnew, Phranc, Alley Cats, The Crowd, The Gears—our list is way too long to list and includes rad newer bands as well as some from China!

Our fifteenth show is the most shamelessly selfish lineup yet. Most of it is newer bands with members of older groups that never got very big or popular back in their days. But I loved them and want people to check out the current music, too. These are punk rock lifers who don’t play for fame but love and the scene.

I’ve been stalking Hurry Up for a long time now. I really dug Maggie Vail’s old band, The Bangs, and how cool is it that she is now in a possibly even more raging punk trio with Kathy Foster and Westin Glass from The Thermals? I sent Maggie a message via Instagram on a whim, and the stars must have been aligned because the three of them had just been talking about a West Coast tour. Guess what? Over the next week or two, we planned an incredible weekend tour so around our matinee fundraiser date. Hurry Up will be up to their armpits in punk legends on the trip, and I understand no less than the man, the myth, the legend O helped them set up a great show in his home town of San Diego, too.

Meet Hurry Up, and seeya at the shows.

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MW: Hurry Up has been around for eight years! What is the secret to lasting that long?
MV: It’ll be eight years in November, which is insane! Our secret is we are doing it purely out of love for each other and our music. This is by far the easiest band I’ve ever been in–whether that’s writing songs together, recording, playing shows, or touring.

MW: Can you remind us how you three got together?
MV: We started backstage at a Thermals show at Irving Plaza in New York City. I was working at Kill Rock Stars at the time and flew out for their Now We Can See show. We started talking about how we wanted to start a hardcore band because we were always seen as the “nice” ones and wanted an outlet for our darker sides. When Kathy and Westin returned from tour, we had our first practice and wrote at least four of the songs on our first record.

 

 

 

MW: Is your album still an accurate reflection of your band, or have you changed a lot since then?
MW: Yeah, it’s pretty accurate I think.

MW: Any new songs in the rotation or in the works?
MV: Yes! We have so many new songs and will be recording our next record in August. We just booked the studio time! Get ready for new hits like “What’s Your Name (I Already Forgot),” “Death Puberty,” “Dismal Nitch,” and “Oh Screw It.”

MW: The Bangs and The Thermals had great taste in covers. Are there fave songs that Hurry Up takes on as well?
MV: We’ve done three Dead Moon covers so far with “Fire in the Western World” almost always making an appearance these days. We also do “Sex Beat” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog”

 

 

 

 

MW: Your deejay project Strange Babes has rad taste in punk, power pop, and rock, too. Since our benefit is going to be in Chinatown right by the old Hong Kong Cafe and Madame Wong’s, I’m wondering if you can share fave bands and cuts from L.A.’s first wave of punk?
MW: Well, I am always fond of “Let’s Get Rid of New York” by Randoms. I even played it the first time I deejayed records in New York last May at a Bash & Pop show (I couldn’t help myself). Other faves: “Kids of the Black Hole” by Adolescents, the Stiff single version of “How Much More”  by The Go-Go’s, “Manimal” by Germs…

MW: Kathy, you’re a Strange Babe, too.
KF: I don’t really have much to add, but here is some of my fave L.A. punk. Black Flag with Keith doing “Nervous Breakdown” and “Wasted.” (I also love OFF!) Gun Club’s “Sex Beat” and all of Fire Of Love. Suburban Lawns songs that Su sings: “Janitor,” “Unable,” “Green Eyes.” Agent Orange’s “Bloodstains,” “The Last Goodbye,” and the rest of Living In Darkness. Of course, X’s “Nausea,” “The World’s A Mess…”

MW: Westin?
WG: Maggie and Kathy’s track listings are really good already. I don’t have a lot to add. Well, maybe just a couple. “Black Thoughts” and “Panic Attack” by OFF! Descendents’ “Suburban Home.” Bad Religion’s Suffer— the whole record!

 

MW: With The Thermals’ running its course as a band, will Hurry Up get more time and action? Or is it in a comfortable groove with stuff like Strange Babes, Roseblood, CASH Music, Bikini Kill Records, The Thermals’ mail order, and life in general naturally filling the void? Am I forgetting anything?
WG: Hurry Up is definitely going to get more action! As Maggie said, we’ve booked studio time for our second record in August, and you can bet we’ll be touring for that one more than we’ve ever done before. We’re all stoked to really go for it with Hurry Up this year!

KF: I also work part-time selling vintage clothing and bar-tending. Never a dull moment! But I’m definitely into Hurry Up doing more touring and I’m excited to record our second album finally! We’ll see what happens.

MW: You play a lot of local shows but haven’t toured much lately. What do you look forward to most about getting together for the weekend trip to SoCal?
KF: Basically the same things I love about touring: getting out of town, playing for new/different cities and people, seeing friends and making new ones. And, of course, that special bonding that happens on the road with your bandmates/best friends.

WG: Tenacious D sums it up: “The road is fuckin’ hard, the road is fuckin’ tough.” We love road gigs! The best part is leaving behind your “normal” life to live your real life as a 24/7 rock & roll warrior. We’ll be playing a lot more road gigs in ‘18 and beyond. It’s so fun to spend time together and play music with your friends.

wukong-horizFollow Hurry Up at hurryup.cashmusic.org and Instagram and catch their SoCal tour from May 19-21!